Some things to watch for if you decide to part ways with your cable provider and opt for streaming over the internet.
OK, so everything I had to say about streaming wouldn’t fit into the newspaper. Here are some additional thoughts worth considering. And if all this makes your head hurt, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
As noted, many of the fees changed as I was researching the article. My price for top speed actually fell $5 a month to $80. When I asked CenturyLink if I could get the lower rate, it said yes — but I would lose certain benefits in customer support. It was all kind of vague, but for now I’m just keeping an eye on pricing.
Potential CenturyLink customers may want to inquire about price protection in the event its rates continue to drop. In fact, a price-protection query might be a good idea for any vendor you’re thinking of signing up with.
For a week after I began CenturyLink, I kept Xfinity service going. I wanted to verify CenturyLink’s speeds and make sure I was happy with its service. On CenturyLink tests, I routinely got download speeds in the 300 to 500 mbps range and upload speeds even faster, in the high 800s.
Note that I did not reach, and still haven’t reached, the top speed I’m paying for. Providers typically mislead on Internet access speeds, giving you a best-possible-scenario. In my case, bottlenecks in my Mac’s software and hardware may have more to do with it than the CenturyLink feed.
Think of it like a car. According to the speedometer, your car might be capable of going 120 mph. But given traffic, road conditions, weather, your driving skill and so on, you’re probably never going to wind that thing out to 120.
Still, faster is always better with Internet access. Anyone who has experienced on-screen whirlies, freezes, blackouts or jagged pixels knows the perils of slow. Plus it’s nice when installing or updating software, or just browsing the web, to have snappy response.
As yet another aside (sorry, it’s really the only way to write something like this), I was annoyed that I couldn’t just cancel Xfinity service by clicking on my online account or even via online chat with customer service. I was given a phone number to call. After sitting on hold a couple of times, I gave up on the phone and just took all my stuff back to Comcast’s service center. Tip: midweek, midafternoon. The place was deserted.
By contrast, I had great service from CenturyLink, both over the phone and online. Only once did I wait longer than 15 seconds for a response, and I actually got humans instead of voice bots. Granted, I’m a new customer they presumably want to make happy, whereas a departing customer may not be Xfinity’s top priority. But no customer should be stuck in the proverbial roach hotel over TV service.
It’s a good idea to have unlimited data over whatever network you’re using. This is getting trickier by the megabyte. Cable providers are starting to mimic cellular by charging for data usage per month beyond a base amount. So far in Seattle, the Xfinity cap (1 terabyte) is far more than most users need. But if it lowers, data charges could push streaming bills into traditional cable territory.
So if you’re thinking about cutting the cord, be sure to investigate what speeds, data caps and billing options you’ll face from whatever Internet service provider you’ll be using.
One other point of clarification: If you’re a cable-TV customer, you can also stream TV content you pay your cable provider for onto multiple devices such as phones and tablets.
In my case, I found Xfinity streaming wanting. It almost always forced me to sign back into its app each time I used it. And on a trip to California, the app would not let me connect at all over Wi-Fi because — from what I gathered from its error message — I was not on my home Wi-Fi system. (I didn’t want to use my cellular network because of data costs.) This is not a handicap I’ve encountered with other streaming apps.
When I decided to buy the Chromecast dongle, I naturally went to Amazon to price-check. Surprise — it wasn’t available! Not only did Amazon not explain why, it acted like Chromecast didn’t even exist. I surmised it was because Amazon didn’t want to sell a competitor’s product.
As streaming TV sorts itself out, big players like Apple, Amazon and Google are butting heads on which of their competitors’ products to support. A recent report said Amazon would start selling Chromecast (as well as AppleTV, which it also did not offer). But if it is, I can’t find it. Amazon does offer a lot of dongles that look like Google’s, but the product descriptions all start with “This is not Google Chromecast.” (AppleTV is available.)
I wound up buying one dongle at BestBuy and another at Office Depot. Both said they’d take the device back if I didn’t like it. You can also order online from Google, although you’d probably want to do so before registering to make sure it arrives before your free trial ends. What I did was to try out YouTube TV on my portable devices first, then got the dongles after I was comfortable using the system.
My final thought:
The streaming jungle made me wish more than ever for the ability to order just a program or a network at a time, with the shows I want, commercial-free. You know, the way HBO operates. And Netflix. Although to be entirely accurate, self-promoting commercials are starting to creep into their programming too. And re HBO, some programming isn’t available via streaming — e.g., “Real Time with Bill Maher” — at the same time it airs on cable TV. This was explained to me by HBO as a technical issue, but I suspect time-delay has more to do with contractual obligations to cable companies carrying HBO.
Think if all retail operated this way. Say you couldn’t buy hamburger meat for a spaghetti feed without also being forced to “bundle” it with unneeded buns, BBQ sauce and relish. Or you went to a movie theater and couldn’t buy tickets to one movie without buying tickets to two other movies as well. (Not to give vendors any ideas, you understand.)
Yet if we want to watch TV, we have to pay for hours of programming we don’t want.
To me, the concept of cutting the cable offered hope for fully on-demand, commercial-free, pay-per-view programming. But so far anyway, there’s no Flying Pigs TV app.